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Federal judge says six states can continue to mistreat transgender students

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A federal judge just blocked President Joe Biden’s Title IX protections in six more states, bringing the total number up to 10. This decision marks the second time a judge has sided with Republican attorneys general in opposing Title IX expansions.

Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky issued a ruling on Monday against the expanded Title IX protections issued by Biden and the Department of Education in April. Reeves’ ruling blocked the new rules in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and West Virginia.

His ruling joins a separate judge’s order from last week that blocked the protections in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana.

Setting the tone for the 93-page ruling, Reeves began his ruling by saying, “There are two sexes: male and female.” He went on to block the rules by arguing that they’re a First Amendment violation, and that they equate the definition of two different terms — sex and gender identity — leading to an over-expansion of federal legal protections.

“‘Sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” Reeves wrote. “The Department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.”

“The Final Rule also has serious First Amendment implications,” he continued. “The rule includes a new definition of sexual harassment which may require educators to use pronouns consistent with a student’s purported gender identity rather than their biological sex.”

The rules would have expanded gender-based protections, something enshrined under Title IX, a 1972 federal law established to give girls and women fair educational opportunities. The new protections also prohibited discrimination on the basis of one’s abortion history or whether someone is transgender. The rules rolled back policies put in place by the administration of then-President Donald Trump that undermined anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ+ people put in place by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

“Based on the ‘pervasive’ nature of pronoun usage in everyday life, educators likely would be required to use students’ preferred pronouns regardless of whether doing so conflicts with the educator’s religious or moral beliefs,” Reeves’ ruling continued. “A rule that compels speech and engages in such viewpoint discrimination is impermissible.”

Reeves also wrote that the new rules would constitute disproportionate harm onto these states by depriving them of federal funding. The DOE said schools that do not follow the new rules face possible investigation and a loss of federal education funding.

“The loss of these funds undoubtedly would have a devastating impact on the plaintiff- States’ public schools and their students,” Reeves wrote. “And while the Department of Education must seek voluntary compliance before terminating any funds that are given to states under Title IX, ‘the States’ injury as alleged has an immediate effect on the States’ ordering of their own affairs.”

The topic of athletics comes up multiple times in Reeves’ ruling as well. However, the initial Biden rules did not specify any protections for transgender students on athletic sports teams.

Reeves concluded his argument by stating that the reasoning given by the DOE for the rules is “arbitrary and capricious,” stating “the [DOE] does not provide a sufficient explanation for leaving regulations in place that conflict with the new gender-identity mandate, nor does it meaningfully respond to commentors’ concerns regarding risks posed to student and faculty safety.”

Reeves was nominated as a judge by President George W. Bush in 2001.

In a press release, Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (R) said, “As a parent and as Attorney General, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes. We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A DOE spokesperson told the Washington Blade they are still reviewing the ruling but, “Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment. The department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

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